Why a Writer’s Brain

I was in class the other day. One of my students was reading one of my scripts out loud that his group will be performing in the coming weeks. At one point he stopped and looked over at me and asked, “How do you think of this? This is good. I never would have thought of this.” In all fairness, at his age, I wouldn’t have thought of it either. It took me many years to develop a writer’s brain.

I not even sure what a writer’s brain is, but if I had to nail down some sort of definition, it’s the ability to make connections which may not be obvious to others. Why it happens, I don’t know. But as I’ve recounted in different posts in the past that there’s some sort of trigger which flashes across my mind, giving the moment rise. It allows a single idea to take on a new life or at least potential for a new life. That’s when ideas are born.

Here’s an example. Maybe. I’m currently living in Saudi Arabia. Yes, the desert. It rains on average about once a year. Yesterday was that day. It flooded my street because the city has no drainage because, well, it rains only once a year. So when it does rain, everything shuts down, even if it’s not much of a downpour.

Yesterday, however was an impressive rain which lasted several hours. I couldn’t go anywhere without trudging through water. And as I was trudging through water towards my Thanksgiving Day dinner, I started thinking about water. Saudi Arabia spends an untold amount of money on fuel to power their desalination plants which provide the necessary water to support its tens of millions of people. (Hint, hint: California take note. But that’s another post) I have no idea how much oil it takes to power one plant for one day. I’m sure it’s a lot. Multiply that over the entire country and you can see the amount of energy it takes to produce the country’s water. Now, of course, Saudi has plenty of oil, so it works well for them.

However, as I was walking ankle deep in water, it struck me. All of this water is free. There’s a free blanket of water covering the city. This is a massive amount of water. Free! How many places just take it for granted? That’s why Saudi has tried seeding the clouds in order to produce more free water. Just imagine how a whole society could change if over time they were able to produce more water from the sky for them to use. And then my brain takes over. There’s a story in there somewhere. There’s a story of greed, of political motivation. It might be a science fiction story, of how a new breakthrough changes the way clouds can be seized and countries start “stealing” water from the sky, which begins to change the climates of neighboring places and …

My street yesterday. Looks about the same today.

This is how my brain works. It’s not likely I’ll ever write a story like that, but it’s the small connections in life which allow my brain to think of the possibilities and it allows the creativity to flow. Once it starts flowing, it won’t stop. That’s the most exciting part.

I currently have two new stories in the works. An Asian fantasy (inspired by something a friend said) and a contemporary tale about a social media mogul (inspired by reading the news). I’m loving the potential for both of these and can’t wait to have more time to write them.

Reading the Christmas Proof

I’ve been reading the printed proof of my new novel.

It releases October 1. My first Christmas novel. A historical fiction account of a little girl trying to make sense of her father’s death in World War II.

A proof read for me is a post-edit final-type of read. (Though it may be correctly stated that authors never like to say final read because we are the nervous type that always want to do it once more.) Nevertheless, I have been really enjoying the read-through for a variety of reasons and it has indeed improved the manuscript in several ways.

A proof read will help find those persnickety little things that might have been missed. The missing question mark, for example. I think I’ve added three so far. There was one repeated word that needed to be deleted and a few very minor issues of italicizing and whatnot. It will just help clean up the final released version.

The sounds of a proof read may be the most important thing, however. By reading it out loud, I get to hear the language and this is where I catch things like a repeated word in two consecutive sentences, for example. There’s nothing mechanically wrong with that, but the sound is wrong. It feels lazy and there’s always a better word to use the second time to add more flavor to the text.

Mainly, I’ve just enjoyed re-following this young girl’s story. It’s been a couple months since my last read-through, and I’m always amazed at what I forget about the story – even though I wrote it. When writing, I’m so immersed in the universe of the story that I will remember every little detail, even if I don’t write them down. But after I let it sit awhile, the universe begins to fade and I get to rediscover little nuggets I had forgotten. It’s pretty cool when that happens.

If you like historical fiction, Christmas stories, and heartfelt tearjerkers, then this story is for you. The Kindle version is available for pre-order on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0B6RWCN6B/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tkin_p1_i6

Pre-release reviews of the book are starting to show-up on Goodreads. You can read them here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/61410539-christmas-in-45

Novels 11 & 12 Releasing in 2022

It’s official. This will be the first year I’ve ever released two novels in one year. I’ve been remarkedly steady since I began publishing in 2012 – one novel a year. I believed the trend would continue. I finished my 11th novel on writing trip to Tbilisi back in late October. It’s the sequel of my baseball series: Myths & Tales of the Winasook Iron Horses. This one is entitled The Lost Lineup.

I had no inkling what the next story would be. I was busy doing the final edits of the book over the Christmas holiday when it hit me: I should write a Christmas novel. People love to read Christmas books. I had previously published three Christmas short stories and thought it might be fun to try a novel-length Christmas story. But what about?

I often head back to history for ideas and I thought of a simple premise: a nine-year-old girl finds out that her father was killed in WWII on Christmas Eve 1944. The book would be about how the girl processed the death until the next Christmas – thus the title would be Christmas in ’45. Okay, I had the idea. Now would I have the time to write?

Well, on March 27, I finished the first complete draft of this novel. Novel #12. It’s a short novel, my shortest, but I kept it short on purpose because of how I only told the story from the girl’s perspective. I’ll write more about that process on a later post, but I’m really happy how this challenging story turned out, and I decided that it will release on October 1, 2022.

Lots of fun to look forward to in the coming months as I prepare these novels for release. The Lost Lineup is currently with my editor, and I should have the edited version ready soon. Then ARCs will be sent out as I continue to hone my Christmas story.

Stay tuned! 2022 is going to be a great year.

A Storyline So Obvious that It Nearly Writes Itself

I abhor outlining when writing. I’ve seen the tutorials and how certain other professionals plan their stories, but that, to me, would feel like being forced to write state-sponsored propaganda under Stalin’s regime. Why would anyone want to lock themselves into a pre-conceived structure? I guess my brain just doesn’t work that way.

I’ve said it before that the joy in writing, for me, is discovery. It’s an adventure across an unknown landscape unsure what will be discovered around the next bend. It’s the thrill of the chase. Neil Gaiman described it as driving through fog with your headlights out (or something to that effect). I can get behind a metaphor like that.

But then there’s this: a storyline so obvious that it nearly writes itself. I had that revelation just two days ago while working on my sequel to my yet-to-be-released baseball novel.

Sequels are different in that the world-building has already happened. Now the writer has to live in that universe and is bound by the structure and actions of the first book. That can be constraining, but if the material is compelling enough, it’s still not a bore to write. I think that’s why it took me so long to actually write a series. I thought it would be a bore. My mind always wanted to move on to other endeavors, but I have now come to grips with the fact that writing sequels has its own challenges and benefits.

The challenge it to meet and exceed expectations from book 1. Not always easy to do.

The benefits, the story almost writes itself.

In my unnamed sequel to A DIAMOND FOR HER, it’s almost laughable how obvious the plot is, at least to me. I actually questioned myself about that fact: will the readers already know where this is going? Of course not. Nobody has such silly meandering thoughts as I do.

There is still much to be fleshed-out and a long summer of writing ahead to possibly have a finished draft, but it comes down to these simple tasks:

  • Complete the unfinished business of book 1. Check. I’m on it.
  • Introduce new and interesting characters who will help you do it. Check.
  • Find wonder, intrigue, and laughter in the minute details, even if they are constrained by what I’ve previously written.
  • Bring about a climax which will satisfy all participants in this crazy journey. Working on it.

Writing can be both discovery – when starting a new manuscript – and writing can be the rearranging of the final pieces of the puzzle left open in the previous installment. I’m now okay with both styles of writing even though one is, without a doubt, more enjoyable than others.

To find out more about my upcoming release, check out the links below:

When the Clouds Part: The Best Part of Writing

Someone said (probably a famous writer whom I can’t remember) that writing a novel is like driving in the fog with one headlight out.

I like that analogy because that’s the way I write. I have no idea where I’m going. I don’t know the climax, the end game, the resolution, or who takes whom to the dance. I’m as lost as the reader until ….

THE CLOUDS PART. THE SUN SHINES THOUGH. THE ILLUMINATED IS BATHED IN A HEAVENLY SPOTLIGHT AND I HEAR THE ANGELS SINGING.

It is revealed. I love it when that happens.

I never know when, or if, it will happen. Sometimes it doesn’t and I just muddle through and try to think what is the best ending. But other times, it is revealed. Not created. Not imagined. Revealed. It just comes, to me, but I did nothing to allow it to come to me. It just does.

And when it does, I’m just so happy to be the conduit of the revelation. It’s one of the BEST parts of writing. It’s kind of like a vindication of the hours spent in front of the screen and the gods of writing finally nod and say, “Ok, let’s give him some satisfaction.”

Thank you.

If you haven’t guessed by now, it happened today. I’m writing my tenth novel and I’m having an absolute blast. Probably the best time I’ve ever had in writing. It’s about baseball, of course. What else could cause me this much joy?

I’ve always admired the works of W.P. Kinsella and I’m not ashamed to say that my work is heavily influenced by his ideas. Not that I’ll ever attain his impeccable prose, but I hope to take the spirit of what he wrote about baseball and humanity and just have fun with it in wrapping it up in an engaging historical fiction that runs through the American century  from 1920-1955. The Mythology of Baseball is its pretentious title. I love it. Truly do. Early this week I was lamenting to my students that I wish the main characters were real people. I want them to have walked the earth and to have done the things that they have done. I wish it were so. But I guess that’s what makes good fiction. I hope, at least.

Today, as I was finishing one part of the story – this is not a conventional novel that starts from the beginning and ends at the end. Certainly not. Baseball is not that neat and tidy. It is many stories. Yet one story.

Have I told you that I love it?

Anyways, I was finishing one part of the story that had been causing me some consternation. I really didn’t know what was going to happen until the character made this gesture that even surprised me. It surprised me, the writer. I couldn’t tell you how much I loved it, cause the recipient of the gesture sure loved it a lot. The clouds cleared and the beauty of the moment emerged.

I couldn’t have been happier.

I can not wait to share The Mythology of Baseball with the world. It’s already at 77,000 words and counting. It will likely be my first work ever to top 100,000. I hope so, cause these characters deserve it. Every word.

The Apple Tree & Writing

The idea behind the following metaphor is not new. Other writers have expressed similar ideas. This is, however, how I envision a successful writing process.

Here goes.

Writing is an apple tree full of red, ripe apples. Every apple is an idea. From a distant observation, each fruit looks equally delicious. What a bumper crop! You shall never run out of things to write about.

However, the writer would be wise to show restraint and not impulsively climb the tree to pick every reachable apple, for every reachable apple is not a quality apple. A conniving worm might be eating out the core. It’s impossible to tell at this point.

Good ideas are more apt to come to fruition when accompanied by patience

So what’s a writer to do? Find a comfortable beach chair. Put on a Hawaiian shirt, keep the front unbuttoned, and have a beverage of choice within arm’s reach. Sit in the chair, stretch out your legs and ponder the apples. Patience leads to a little miracle called inspiration.

One by one the rotten apples will begin falling from the branches. Caution: a writer may not want to sit directly under the tree.

Once the rotten fruit has revealed themselves and lay a stinky mess on the ground, what remains is the one true apple, the sweet one, the crisp one, the one you desired all along, only you didn’t know where it was on the tree.

Suddenly, there it is. Redder than the others. Sweeter than the rest, with a hint of sour crispness which will make the plot even that much more unpredictable. Choose that one. The one remaining.

Be patient. Be observant. Allow nature to do the rest.

Then place that apple into your hand and devour it with every bit of strength that you have.

 

 

Thank you, beta readers

It’s done. Novel #9 sent to my editor. More than any other novel I’ve written, the writing of this one has made me understand the true purpose of beta readers.

Writers have blind spots. Or possibly soft spots. Maybe I get a little to sentimental at times and think a few chapters can get by with charisma without conflict. Whatever the case, I had two beta readers for my novel Moses the Singer who essentially said the same thing: the conflict of the story became less apparent about two-thirds through.

I’ll be honest. When the first one said it, I kind of brushed it off as different people have different perspectives. But when suddenly different people have the same perspectives, it made me take note. And they were right.

I found the problem. A story strand which I had left on the table. It turned out to be a crucial turning point in the life of the protagonist. In the first draft, he kind of floated through a few chapters without motivation. Well, not any more.

The re-worked manuscript adds about 6000 words and two brand-new chapters. And conflict? Oh yeah. Big time. It’s the type of big moment which pushes the story forward and which helps to define a character’s actions. It was big, and I missed it.

So, once again, thanks beta readers.

Moses the Singer now clocks in at about 90,000 words. It scheduled for a summer release. I already have the cover and will be revealing it soon.

Here’s the first published description of the book. Much more to come:

Moses the Singer: A man without a country lives a disenfranchised life on the beautiful island of Penang, Malaysia. A group of teenage musicians witness the old man being taken advantage of by a local resident. What happens next is a whole lot of sweet harmony.

Be Willing to Make a Major Change in Your Writing

As I’ve mentioned, I had sent novel #9 out to some beta readers for feedback prior to final draft and sending it to my editor.

Two beta readers, whom I respect a great deal for their knowledge of literature and their ability to just tell me honestly what they think, said basically the same thing. One could not recommend the book because, in the beta reader’s opinion, there was a pause in the conflict during a certain section about two-thirds through. The other would recommend this book to others but also said something similar at the same part. The conflict seems to be undefined giving the reader no real clue where the story is going.

I was happy with the story the way it was.

So now what?

As a writer, am I willing to slow down the publication of my story and make a major change to the plot, not really knowing the ripple effects it may have for the story?

Yes. Emphatically, yes.

I have learned that I cannot entrench myself so far into my writing that I’m not willing to take criticism and make changes. That’s the whole point of having a beta reader, right? If I’m not willing to listen to them, then I just wasted their time, and I slowed down the time line of my book for no reason.

But I want to do this right. This writing thing. So here I go.

What am I about to do? My book is 34 chapters. I’m really happy with it through chapter 16. I’m also happy with the ending, and I think both beta readers were too. But the back middle is sagging, so I will:

  • enter a brand new plot twist to chapter 17.
  • not whine and complain when it wrecks havoc with some of my chapters.
  • welcome the ripple effects and go where they take me.
  • try to make it into the kind of book that the first beta reader would recommend.

As I’ve been thinking about this for the past few days, something hit me. They are right. They are absolutely right. I left a conflict on the writing table. It’s right in front of me. Part of the story just disappears. Neither of them mentioned this, but it’s obvious to me now. And this missing storyline will become the needed conflict which will, hopefully, propel the story to its ending.

Here’s what I keep telling myself:

  • be open to change
  • keep trying to get better
  • listen to others
  • do the best you can
  • then accept it, finish it, and move on.

MOSES THE SINGER coming summer 2020.

 

Beta Readers: Choose Tough Ones

I just heard back from my first beta reader concerning my newest novel MOSES THE SINGER. She’s ready to answer my questions.

Am I terrified? Of course. She is the first person in the world to read this manuscript after myself. I have five other people working their way through it right now.

Is it killing me that she gave no indication if she like or hated it?  Yes.

Am I glad she didn’t? YES. As much as I hate it, I want beta readers to be tough, critical, fair, and blunt.

Here’s why:

  1. Beta readers are not seeing the final product yet. Why I have done a lot of revision and editing on the manuscript, it hasn’t gone through the final editing process yet. Beta readers are meant to help you get it ready for the final push for the book.
  2. I need unbiased eyes. I wouldn’t send a manuscript to anyone unless I was happy with it, but I have no idea what a reader might think of the story. If it sucks, or if it has a major flaw, I need to know. The writer is sometimes too close to his or her own story to see the warts.
  3. I want to get better. Fawning praise will not help me improve my writing. Serious reflection and tough questions will.

When I choose a beta reader, I choose people who are voracious readers. I choose people who love literature and are well versed on all types of quality writing. When possible, I choose English teachers or people who are writers or aspiring writers themselves. I choose people whom I respect and have shown a passion for literary criticism to one degree or another.

My beta readers are tough, and I want them to be blunt, no matter how much it might hurt my fragile writer’s ego. So here goes, wish me luck, and let’s hope the following criticism will make the end product that much better. The end product means the book in question AND my writing in general.

PS: Just so we’re clear, I am okay for beta readers to tell me how much they liked it, too. Praise has its place. So, feel free.

 

Novel Finished. Barely. What’s next?

Sometimes writing takes a backseat to life. How dare it! Cutting into my writing time with family and barbecues and travel and house repairs and … You get the picture. And it’s all good, all the time. But even when I’m in the midst of enjoying some time away from writing, the bug to scratch out a few words and ideas is never far away. After all, I have been hopelessly bitten by the creative parasite which has been replacing my blood with writing ideas for the past ten years.

Even in the midst of a busy time in life, I was still able to finish my novel this summer, which was, at the very least, the baseline goal I was shooting for. My earlier summer-self had hoped to write two novels this summer. Well, I was fortunate to get one done.

Novel #9 – currently titled MOSES THE SINGER. It is set in Penang, Malaysia and involves a group of teen musicians and a homeless illegal immigrant. Of the five main characters in the novel, four are teens aged 16-18, so I will be marketing it as my first ever YA novel. As with all of my novels, I wonder how it is. What will people think? Will it be interesting? Gripping? Moving? Will readers have as much fun reading it as I had writing it? I suppose these are questions every writer grapples with.  The reality is, no matter how long one has been writing, these questions don’t go away, but I can never let them define how I move forward with a story. One has to be committed to the story and push the story from all angles in a relentless pursuit of making it the very best possible.

This is what I’ll be doing the next few months: revising. I will be completing a couple more drafts of the novel before passing it on to some beta readers for the frightening feedback.

This fall, I will also be pushing my plays as much as possible in hopes of finding a theatre which will produce one of them. I do have a short play hitting the stage in Penang this November.

On top of this, I’ll be directing Suessical The Musical for an international school, and I have another show called DUETS which will hit the stage in late October.

It’s going to be crazy busy, but that’s the way I like it. Except for the fact that my writing time will continue to be limited. Keep moving forward. That’s the only thing to be done.